Negotiating Successfully But Ethically

this is a dilemma many people face.

your market is probably getting more competitive; your personal targets are getting tougher; your competitors are getting sharper; your customers and suppliers are expecting better deals; your shareholders or bosses (same thing?) are expecting year-on-year improvement.

this comes down to one thing: you have to negotiate more successfully.

but let’s throw another factor into the mix (as if it wasn’t difficult enough already). what if the other party in your negotiations is prepared to lie? or be aggressive. or elusive, or awkward, inconsistent, illogical, unreliable, misleading and unhelpful. let’s face it, they can be downright rude sometimes. where does that leave you? should you play them at their own game? after all, if you enter your negotiations being your nice, willing, open, helpful self; seeking collaborative, creative, mutual-gain solutions when dealing with the type of operator identified above, there is a very good chance that they will take all the lovely info that you have just willingly given them and use it against you. this will inevitably lead to a sub-optimised outcome for you.

but you can’t lie, can you? i am yet to meet someone who describes themselves as a liar (it’s always the other party). you must operate successfully whilst keeping your own ethics and morals intact. the organisation you represent also has values and ethics which should you transgress, you will be in trouble.

so you must get better results, deal with “difficult” people and retain your own ethics. this is not an impossible equation. you can do it with the right mindset, skills, behaviours and plan.

the first thing to recognise is that negotiation is not like the rest of life. it’s ok to engage in the ritual which says that you do not have to be as open as you are with your friends on a friday evening. you don’t have to tell them the limits of your budget; in fact is ok for you to make them an offer that is well within the limits of your budget. this is not dishonest.

don’t be put off (or even intimated) by their behaviour. once you have recognised that they are being dishonest, unhelpful, e.t.c., you can start to understand why. it must be that they are trying to get the perception of power in their favour, which in turn must mean that they are feeling weak in their position. so, far from being intimidated by their behaviour, you can gain confidence from it. don’t “call” them on their lying, just notice it.

ask them why:

  • why that price?
  • why those terms?
  • why don’t they know the answers to your questions?

it is probably important to their ego that they are in charge. let them be; you just focus on the important stuff – the solution. let them win the battles.

plan your approach in advance:

  • what will your proposals be?
  • what will you tell them?
  • what won’t you tell them?
  • what will you ask them?

once you have decided these things (and much more besides), you can then stick to your plan. it is when people go “off-piste” that they get themselves into trouble.

you are in control of your behaviours and tactics, let them decide theirs.


Dan Hughes

He has specialised in negotiation consulting since 2005, and set up his own business in 2012 bringing this expertise to businesses small and large in all parts of the world. This company - bridge][ability ltd - runs behavioural and strategic planning negotiation skills programs which transform capabilities and has a client list which includes Tesco, The FA, Fujitsu, Capita, Reiss, Take 2 Interactive (the company behind Grand Theft Auto), BBC Worldwide and Channel 4. https://www.bridge-ability.com/Home/Client-List

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